Transcript: Marshall McLuhan in Conversation with Tom Wolfe | May 07, 2010

On a sunny day, two men sit on lawn chairs in a large backyard flanked by oak trees.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Brave new words: Marshall McLuhan and Tom Wolfe."

Tom is in his thirties, clean-shaven, with longish, straight gray hair. He's wearing a lavender shirt, pink tie, tan trousers and white shoes.

Marshall is in his sixties, with receding gray hair and a mustache. He's wearing a short-sleeved, printed yellow shirt, green trousers and brown shoes.

Marshall says TOM, IT'S WONDERFUL HAVING YOU HERE IN WYCHWOOD PARK AT NUMBER 3, RIGHT IN MY OWN BACK GARDEN. NEVER THOUGHT IT WOULD HAPPEN.

Tom says WELL, I DIDN'T EITHER. I THINK YOU'VE GOT THE BEST PUTTING GREEN IN TOWN, HERE. THIS IS GREAT STUFF.

Marshall says IT'S A BIT ROUGH FOR PUTTING BECAUSE OF THE ACORNS. CROQUET IS BETTER. IT ROLLS OVER THE ACORNS QUITE WELL. BUT IT IS, IT'S GRAND BEING ABLE TO JUST SIT DOWN AND TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE THINGS WE'RE INTERESTED IN. AND I'M INTRIGUED BY THE FACT THAT YOU ARE FROM THE SOUTH. AND I'VE ALWAYS HAD AN INTEREST IN THE SOUTH. MY WIFE IS FROM THE SOUTH.

Tom says THAT'S RIGHT. SHE'S FROM FORT WORTH, ISN'T SHE?

Marshall says FORT WORTH. I WAS INTERESTED, YOU SEE, IN THE THAT FACT YOU WERE A SOUTHERNER, TOM, AND THAT THIS RELATION TO AN ORAL TRADITION IS OF GREAT ADVANTAGE TO A LITERARY MAN. IN THE 20th CENTURY, IT'S VERY REMARKABLE THAT ALL THE BEST WRITING HAS COME OUT OF IRELAND OR THE AMERICAN SOUTH BECAUSE OF THIS CLOSE RELATION THAT THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE HAS TO THE SPOKEN WORD IN THOSE AREAS. AND THIS, TOO, SEEMS TO HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE EXISTENCE OF JAZZ AND ROCK AS ART FORMS. THAT WITHOUT AN ORAL TRADITION OF CORPORATE, PUBLIC ADDRESS, THIS KIND OF MUSIC WOULD NOT OCCUR.

Tom says I'M SURE A LOT OF IT ALSO HAS TO DO WITH PREACHING.

Marshall says WELL, THERE AGAIN IS A PUBLIC ADDRESS SYSTEM.

Tom says BECAUSE THERE'S... I REALLY CAN'T THINK OF ANY PART OF THE COUNTRY WHERE PREACHING AMONG BOTH BLACK AND WHITE PREACHERS HAS HAD SUCH PROMINENCE. AND WHERE PEOPLE GET SO FULSOME IN THEIR EXPRESSION. AND WHETHER IT'S THE VERY STILTED KIND OF SPEECH THAT THE SOUTHERN EPISCOPALIAN MINISTER USES WITH THE "AH" EXPRESSIONS... FORGIVE US AH, OUR, AH, TRESPASSES, AND AH , IT'S VERY INTENTIONAL. IT'S KIND OF AN ENGLISH MANNERISM.

Marshall says WELL, THOSE HESITATIONS AND THOSE INTERVALS ARE ACTUALLY VERY INVOLVING. IT MAKES THE AUDIENCE JUST HANG ON THE NEXT PHRASE. IT'S LIKE A STUTTERER WHO KEEPS YOU JUST ON THE ROPES WAITING FOR HIM TO FORM ANOTHER WORD.

Tom says THIS WHOLE IDEA OF AN ORAL TRADITION CERTAINLY DID COME BACK WITH THE BEAT GENERATION. YOU'VE GOT... I THINK THE MAIN CONTRIBUTION TO PEOPLE LIKE ALLEN GINSBERG AND GREGORY CORSO AND FERINGHETTI MADE WAS TO JUST BREAK UP THE ACADEMIC PORTRAITS THAT HAD BECOME SO STRONG AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR, WHICH IS A VERY FORMAL, RIGID...

Marshall says WHICH KIND OF POETS DO YOU HAVE IN MIND BY THE WORD ACADEMIC?

Tom says WELL, EVERYONE... PRACTICALLY EVERYONE WHO WAS REVIEWED IN THE KENYON REVIEW.

Marshall says I SEE. THAT WOULD INCLUDE ALL THE SOUTHERN POETS AND THE IRISH POETS AND SOME OF THE BRITISH POETS. BUT THE ACADEMIC, THE ESTABLISHMENT, THE POETIC ESTABLISHMENT, YOU MEANT HAD BUILT UP AGAINST THE ACADEMIC STUDY OF POUND AND ELIOT AND YEATS?

Tom says I THINK THE PEOPLE WHO TOOK OFF FROM POUND AND ELIOT AND WERE WHO WRITING AFTER THE WAR, REALLY NEGLECTED THE ORAL SIDE OF, SAY, SOMEONE LIKE ELIOT OR POUND, AND WERE MORE IN LOVE WITH THE FACT THAT SOMEONE LIKE POUND WAS FILLING HIS WORK WITH SCHOLARLY ILLUSIONS, WITH MYTHICAL ILLUSIONS. AND IT BECAME A TOTALLY...

Marshall says WELL, MYTHIC STUDY. AND VERY ANTHROPOLOGICALLY ORIENTED, ARCHAEOLOGICALLY ORIENTED, VERY LEARNED. BUT THE FACT IS THOSE POETS THEMSELVES CAME OUT OF THE AGE OF RADIO AND WOULD HAVE BEEN UNTHINKABLE WITHOUT THAT RADIO GROUND AROUND THEM. AND THE WHOLE OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE TOOK ON A TREMENDOUS NEW ORAL LIFE FROM RADIO. I'M SURE THAT THIS WAS CARRIED STRAIGHT ON INTO JAZZ AND ROCK MUSIC.

Tom says A LOT OF POETS, IN ENGLAND, IN PARTICULAR, WERE BEING READ ON THE AIR, WEREN'T THEY?

Marshall says AND RECORDED. THERE WAS A GREAT DISC PRESENTATION OF POETRY IN THE '30s, ESPECIALLY.

Tom says AND THIS, YOU KNOW, THIS HAS BECOME EVEN TRUER TODAY WHEN SO MANY POETS REALLY MAKE THEIR LIVING, IT'S THE ONLY WAY THEY CAN MAKE THEIR LIVING IS GOING AROUND TO UNIVERSITIES AND GIVING READINGS. AND I REALLY THINK IT'S DONE A GREAT DEAL FOR POETRY BECAUSE...

Marshall says ON THE OTHER HAND, THERE HAS BEEN A DEMAND FOR THIS. THE PUBLIC WANTS TO CONFRONT THE POETS. BUT SURELY, THE POETS HAVE BEEN WRITING FOR RADIO, THERE HAVE BEEN ALL SORTS OF POETRY PLAYS AND SONGS WRITTEN FOR RADIO, AND FOR TV. WHY DON'T WE JUST CONSIDER THE TREMENDOUS PUBLICS OPENED UP TO WHAT FORMERLY HAD BEEN RATHER LIMITED PUBLICS WITH THE WRITTEN OR PRINTED FORMS, THE TREMENDOUS NEW PUBLICS OPENED UP BY TELEVISION AND RADIO FOR POETRY AND DRAMA AND STORIES?

Tom says WELL, A BIG MISTAKE THAT PEOPLE WHO ARE WRITING FOR THOSE MEDIUMS MAKE IS THAT THEY DON'T COLLECT THEIR, WHAT THEY'VE DONE FOR TELEVISION OR FOR RADIO, AND PUT IT IN A BOOK. BECAUSE ONCE IT'S IN A BOOK, IT EXISTS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE OFFICIAL SENSE. I DISCOVERED MYSELF THAT I WROTE... I MUST HAVE WRITTEN 110 MAGAZINE ARTICLES, IT'S EVEN TRUE IN PRINT, MAGAZINES ARTICLES. ONCE I COLLECTED THEM INTO A BOOK...

Marshall says THEY TAKE ON A TOTALLY DIFFERENT CHARACTER. WELL, THEY'RE MORE PORTABLE. THE MAGAZINE IS EXPENDABLE AND DISPOSABLE; THE BOOK IS STILL RETAINED. THE POCKETBOOK, OF COURSE, TENDS TO SUFFER THE FATE OF THE MAGAZINE. IT GETS HANDED AROUND FROM PERSON TO PERSON AND TOSSED INTO CORNERS AND SO ON, BUT THE VARIOUS... YOU FEEL THAT THE WRITERS OFTEN GET LOST JUST IN THE MEDIA. THEY TOIL AWAY AS SCRIPT WRITERS FOR FILM, FOR TV, FOR RADIO, AND THEIR WORK DOESN'T SHOW.

Tom says IT DISAPPEARS INTO THE ETHER, REALLY. AND THEY BECOME VERY FRUSTRATED AND...

Marshall says BUT BY GOING TO CAMPUSES AND READING TO BIG PUBLICS, THEY RECAPTURE THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO THEIR AUDIENCE.

Tom says I THINK THE POETS DO, YEAH. ALSO, I THINK IT IMPROVES THEIR... IT ALSO IMPROVES THEIR WRITING BECAUSE THEY KNOW THEY'RE GOING TO HAVE TO READ IT.

Marshall says AH. THEY HAVE TO MAKE IT SOUND GOOD OUT LOUD. YOU KNOW, THERE'S VERY LITTLE PROSE THAT YOU CAN READ OUT LOUD. MOST PROSE HAS NEVER BEEN WRITTEN FOR THE EAR AT ALL. AND WHEN YOU HAVE TO SUDDENLY READ IT IN PUBLIC, A QUOTE, YOU SUDDENLY REALIZE YOU'RE READING THE WORK OF A MAN WHO NEVER HEARD WHAT HE WAS WRITING.

Tom says WELL, A LOT OF DIALOGUE IS VERY CONVINCING IN NOVELS. WHEN SOMEONE TRIES TO PUT IT ON THE SCREEN, IT'S TERRIBLE. AND I IMAGINE THAT DICKENS MIGHT SUFFER THAT FATE.

Marshall says I'M NOT SURE. THERE HAVE BEEN QUITE A NUMBER OF MOVIES MADE OF HIS WORK. I SUPPOSE THEY'VE BEEN ADAPTED, RATHER THAN JUST REPEATED. BUT THERE IS A REAL ORAL TRADITION BEHIND DICKENS. HE'S NOT A LITERARY MAN, AND ONLY BECAME RESPECTABLE AS A LITERARY FIGURE IN THE '30s, '40s. IN FACT, I DON'T THINK UNTIL TELEVISION DID THE ENGLISH CRITICS ACCEPT DICKENS AS A SERIOUS LITERARY FORCE. HE WAS FARCE, NOT FORCE UP UNTIL TV. I'M SURE THE FUTURE OF THE WRITER IS NOT EXACTLY THESE... 19th CENTURY FUTURE, BUT I'M SURE IT'S BIGGER THAN ANYTHING THE 19th CENTURY EVER DREAMED OF.

Tom says WELL, WRITERS STILL HAVE A FEW EXCLUSIVE TRICKS UP THEIR SLEEVES. SO FAR FILM, WHETHER IT'S TELEVISION OR IN A MOVIE, THEATRE, ANYTHING ELSE, HAS NEVER MANAGED TO USE POINT OF VIEW. THEY'VE TRIED EVERYTHING. THEY'VE TRIED VOICE OVER. THEY'VE TRIED ACTING AS IF THE ACTOR'S EYE HOLES WERE A CAMERA AND SO HE COULD ONLY SEE HIMSELF IN A MIRROR AND THAT SORT OF THING.

Marshall says THE POINT OF VIEW REQUIRES STASIS. AND THAT'S NOT INVOLVEMENT. SO THESE NEW MEDIA DEMAND THAT YOU GET INVOLVED AND PARTLY BECOME PART OF THE ACTION. THE TV IMAGE IS NOT THE FILM IMAGE, A SIMPLE SNAPSHOT. IT IS AN ACTUAL LIVE VORTEX IN ACTION, AND I THINK IS BEHIND WHAT WE CALL THE HAPPENING. TV, ITSELF, IS A KIND OF HAPPENING, TECHNICALLY. AND IT TENDS TO INVOLVE PEOPLE IN ITS OWN VORTEX. AND WHAT IS CALLED IN THE NEW JOURNALISM, THE HAPPENING, WHAT NORMAN MAILER CALLS THE NOVEL IS HISTORY, THE HISTORY IS NOVEL, IS A KIND OF USE OF THE TOTAL ENVIRONMENT AS A SURROUND, OR AS A VORTEX OF ACTION IN WHICH EVERYBODY, THE READER AND THE CHARACTERS, ARE ALL INVOLVED. HIS VISITS TO THE DEMOCRATIC AND THE CHICAGO CONVENTIONS, AND SO ON, ARE NICE OPPORTUNITIES TO SHOW VORTEX.

Tom says I THINK THAT'S WHERE MOST OF THE IMPORTANT CHANGES, CERTAINLY DURING THE 1960s, TOOK PLACE, ACTUALLY. IT WASN'T... I THINK A HUNDRED YEARS FROM NOW, HISTORIANS... THAT'S ASSUMING THE CHINESE WILL HAVE ANY INTEREST IN CURRENT HISTORY... WON'T LOOK AT THE 1960s IN THE CASE OF, SAY, THE UNITED STATES AS THE ERA OF THE WAR IN VIETNAM, OR THE MOON SHOT, OR ANYTHING OF THAT SORT; I THINK IT'LL BE LOOKED AT IN TERMS OF THE WAY WHAT YOU REFERRED TO AS THE GROUND HAS CHANGED. THE WAY DIFFERENT... THE WAY PEOPLE'S LIVES... PEOPLE HAVE CHANGED THEIR WAYS OF LIVING.

Marshall says WE USED TO CONCENTRATE ON FIGURES, AND NOW THE GROUND ITSELF HAS BECOME FIGURED. THE AREA OF ATTENTION HAS SHIFTED FROM THE OLDER CHARACTERS AND TO THE GROUND. NOW THAT INCLUDES AUDIENCE. THE AUDIENCE HAS NOW BECOME ACTOR. DON'T YOU THINK THIS IS A TENDENCY AS A RESULT OF DEVELOPMENTS IN OUR TIME?

Tom says CERTAINLY WOODSTOCK IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE. WOODSTOCK IS PROBABLY THE GREAT TYPICAL EVENT OF OUR TIMES BECAUSE...

Marshall says INSTANT CITY.

Tom says IT WAS SET UP, FROM THE VERY BEGINNING THERE WAS GOING TO BE A MOVIE MADE OF WOODSTOCK. AND RATHER THAN THE PEOPLE... IT STARTED OUT, EVERYONE WAS PAYING THEIR $18 FOR THE WEEKEND. GRADUALLY SO MANY PEOPLE CAME, THEY JUST ABANDONED THAT AND LET THEM ALL COME IN. BUT THEY ACTUALLY SHOULD HAVE PAID THEM ALL AS THEY CAME IN BECAUSE THEY BECAME THE SHOW. AND KEN KESEY AND HIS GROUP THE MERRY PRANKSTERS, THEIR WHOLE IDEA WHEN THEY STARTED THESE ACID TESTS THROUGH CALIFORNIA, WHERE THEY WOULD GET 500 PEOPLE IN A HALL AND GIVE EVERYONE LSD AND HAVE LIGHTS AND EVERYTHING WAS THERE WOULD BE NO LONGER ANY SEPARATION BETWEEN THE PERFORMER AND THE AUDIENCE.

Marshall says RIGHT.

Tom says KESEY HIMSELF SAID I'M TIRED OF... HE SAID HE WAS NO LONGER GOING TO WRITE NOVELS BECAUSE HE WAS TIRED OF BEING A SEISMOGRAPH, HE WANTED TO BE A LIGHTNING ROD.

Marshall says WELL, CONSIDER, IN THAT REGARD, WHAT WE CALL COVERAGE. COVERAGE NOW IS NO LONGER JUST ON A SINGLE INDIVIDUAL, BUT ON A WHOLE COMPLEX ACTION. THAT, IN TURN, DON'T YOU THINK, THAT BOTH IN VIETNAM, IRELAND, THE NORTH OF IRELAND, THE AUDIENCE WANTS TO GET INTO THE ACTION. THAT THE COVERAGE ENCOURAGES THE AUDIENCE TO GET INTO THE ACTION. I'VE BEEN TOLD BY REPORTERS FROM THE NORTH OF IRELAND THAT WHEN THE NEWS IS NOT ON, AND THE CAMERAS ARE READY TO GO, THE PUBLIC IS ALL OUT IN THE STREETS READY TO GO INTO ACTION AS SOON AS THE CAMERAS ARE.

Tom says THAT'S MARVELLOUS.

Marshall says THAT THEY ALL RETIRE INSIDE TO WATCH THE NEWS, THEN COME OUTSIDE TO PARTICIPATE IN COVERING THE NEWS AND IN ACTING IT OUT THEMSELVES. NOW, I THINK THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HIRED ACTORS AND THE PUBLIC ITSELF IS TENDING TO MERGE. ISN'T THAT WHAT YOU'RE SAYING? THIS KIND OF UNEXPECTED FLIP. IT HAPPENED IN THE EICHMANN TRIAL. THE COVERAGE PUSHES UP THE FIGURE INTO HEROIC DIMENSIONS, DRAMATICALLY, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, INVOLVES THE AUDIENCE SO COMPLETELY IN THE PROCESS OF HIS ACTION THAT THEY BEGIN TO FEEL FAR MORE GUILTY THAN HE DID. HE APPEARS MERELY AS A PERSON CARRYING OUT ORDERS. THE ORDERS OF THE COMMUNITY. HE WAS A WELL-ADJUSTED, NICE GUY, WHO WAS DOING WHAT HAD TO BE DONE, ACCORDING TO THE AUDIENCE COMMAND. THE AUDIENCE BEING SO INVOLVED IN THIS PROCESS THAT THEY NOW BEGIN TO FEEL LIKE VILLAIN. THEREFORE, THEY WANT TO CUT THAT SHOW RIGHT OUT OF THEIR LIVES. BUT THE HAPPENING, I THINK, IS OF THIS KIND. IT'S A SITUATION IN WHICH AUDIENCE AND ACTION BECOME ONE. IN WHICH AUDIENCE BECOMES ACTOR AND NOT SPECTATOR. AND SO IN TRUMAN CAPOTE, IN COLD BLOOD , THE AUDIENCE BECOMES ACTOR.

Tom says ONE REASON THAT IN COLD BLOOD MADE SUCH A SPLASH WAS THAT YOU HAD A NOVELIST WHOSE REPUTATION HAD JUST BEEN DRIFTING DOWNHILL FOR, OH, ABOUT SEVEN OR EIGHT YEARS, SUDDENLY TURNING TO NON-FICTION IN A NOVELISTIC MANNER AND COMPLETELY RECOUPING HIS STANDING AND, IN FACT, BECOMING A MUCH BIGGER FIGURE THAN HE'D EVER BEEN BEFORE. BECOME A KIND OF INTERNATIONAL CELEBRITY AS A RESULT OF IT.

Marshall says WOULD YOU REGARD IN COLD BLOOD AS A KIND OF DOCUMENTARY? A RECONSTRUCTION OF ACTUAL EVENTS?

Tom says IT IS. IT'S VERY MUCH LIKE A DOCUMENTARY. ONE... MOST CRIME, MOST CRIME STORIES DONE IN NON-FICTION ARE RECONSTRUCTIONS. AND THEY HAVE THE STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF RECONSTRUCTION. ONE OF THE GREAT WEAKNESSES IS THE DIALOGUE IS SELDOM VERY GOOD BECAUSE NOBODY CAN EVER REMEMBER IT THAT WELL.

Marshall says OR INVENT IT THAT WELL.

Tom says I RECONSTRUCTED A GREAT DEAL OF MATERIAL IN THE ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST. BUT IN THAT CASE, I WAS DEALING WITH A GROUP OF PEOPLE, KEN KESEY AND HIS MERRY PRANKSTERS WHO HAD BEEN ABSOLUTE TECHNOLOGICAL FREAKS. THEY LOVED TO, THEY WERE OBSESSED WITH THE IDEA OF RECORDING THEIR LIVES IN EVERY POSSIBLE WAY. AND THEY KEPT TAPE RECORDERS RUNNING ALL THE TIME. THEY EVEN USED VIDEO TAPES. THEY USED TAPE LAG MECHANISMS. THEY TOOK MOVIES OF THEIR OWN LIVES. THEY KEPT DIARIES. THEY HAD STRANGE DIARIES IN WHICH YOU COULDN'T WRITE IN YOUR OWN DIARY, ONLY OTHER PEOPLE COULD WRITE IN YOUR DIARY.

Marshall says THAT'S A KIND OF RECYCLING OF THEMSELVES.

Tom says I THINK, VERY RAPIDLY, TOO. ONE OF THEIR IDEAS WAS TO GET VERY HIGH ON LSD AND TO HAVE VIDEO TAPES RUNNING IN WHAT YOU COULD PLAY BACK IN WHAT, A MINUTE, OR TWO MINUTES ANYWAY, AND THE INTERVAL BETWEEN WHAT THEY HAD ACTUALLY DONE AND WHAT THEY WOULD NOW SEE ON A SCREEN WAS SO BRIEF, AND THEY WERE SO HIGH, IT WAS AS IF ALL THE LAGS IN LIFE WERE BEING OVERCOME.

Marshall says IT'S LIKE THE PLAY BACK IN MODERN SPORTS. THIS IS A USED... THIS IS SURELY ONE OF THE GREATEST ART FORMS OF OUR TIME, THE INSTANT PLAY BACK.

Tom says INSTANT REPLAY.

Marshall says INSTANT REPLAY. WHICH CONCENTRATES ATTENTION ON THE ACTUAL PROCESS OF THE GAME. I'VE ASKED VARIOUS FOOTBALLERS WHAT'S THIS DONE TO YOUR ACTUAL PLAY? AND THEY TELL ME, WE'VE HAD TO CHANGE THE PLAY, OPEN IT UP A BIT, SO THAT PEOPLE CAN SEE IT AS IF IT WERE REPLAY.

Tom says THEY USE THAT IN TEACHING TENNIS NOW. THERE ARE THESE ACADEMIES. I'M SURE THEY MAKE A LOT OF MONEY, TOO. GET ALL SORTS OF PEOPLE TOGETHER AND THEY HAVE PEOPLE AT GROUPS OF EIGHT AND TEN, AND THEY HAVE THE VIDEO TAPE RUNNING. AND AFTER A PERSON TAKES A FEW WHACKS AT THE BALL, THEY BRING HIM INTO A ROOM AND THEY SHOW THEM WHAT THEY WERE DOING. BUT THINK OF APPLYING THIS TO EVERYDAY LIFE.

Marshall says WELL, I THINK ANYBODY WHO'S HEARD HIS VOICE ON A RECORDING IS APPALLED AT THE CONDITION OF HIS VOCALIZING, AND SAME WHEN HE SEES HIMSELF ON TV. I THINK HE RESOLVES HE NEVER WANTS TO LOOK AT THAT OR LIKE THAT AGAIN. IN OTHER WORDS, THE NEED, I THINK THE NEED THAT THE MEDIA CREATES IS FOR ACTING. THAT PEOPLE REALIZE THAT... JUST THEIR PLAIN, PRIVATE SELF IS NOT ADEQUATE TO THE MEDIA. AND I THINK THIS DRIVES PEOPLE TOWARDS DRAMATIZING.

Tom says AND, YET, IT'S VERY HARD TO DRAMATIZE YOURSELF ON TELEVISION, WOULDN'T YOU THINK?

Marshall says I DON'T KNOW. WE'RE TRYING TO DO IT RIGHT NOW.

Tom says (laughing) I'M NOT FEELING VERY DRAMATIC. I KNOW YOU'VE BEEN THINKING A LOT RECENTLY ABOUT THE IDEA OF A PUT ON, WITH SEVERAL MEANINGS. AND I BELIEVE I HEARD YOU SAY THAT THERE WERE NO GREAT NORTH AMERICAN SYMPHONY CONDUCTORS BECAUSE... AND I NEVER GOT THAT STRAIGHT.

Marshall says IT'S NOT A DIRECT AND SIMPLE THING TO... BUT IT BEGAN WITH MY DISCOVERY THAT AMERICANS GO OUTSIDE TO BE ALONE, AND INSIDE TO BE WITH PEOPLE. NOW, IN ALL OTHER CULTURES, HINDU OR RUSSIAN OR JAPANESE, ENGLISH, EUROPEAN. PEOPLE GO OUTSIDE TO BE WITH PEOPLE. THEY SOCIALIZE OUTSIDE. THEY SIT OUTSIDE. THEY EAT OUTSIDE. AND TALK AND VISIT IN CAFES AND PUBS AND BARS, AND SO ON. AND THEY GO HOME TO BE STRICTLY ALONE. THEY DON'T INVITE STRANGERS INTO THEIR HOMES. AND, IN AMERICA, ON THE OTHER HAND, THERE IS NO PRIVACY IN THE AMERICAN HOME, AND STRANGERS ARE OFTEN ENTERTAINED AND WELCOME. BUT ONE OF THE THINGS IS THAT WHEN AN AMERICAN GOES OUTSIDE, HE IS, HIMSELF, HE IS HIS PRIVATE SELF. HE DOES NOT PUT ON A MASK. OTHER PEOPLE, WHEN THEY GO OUTSIDE, TEND TO PUT ON MASKS IN SPEECH OR IN DRESS OR IN ACTIONS. I SUGGEST THAT THERE ARE NO AMERICAN SYMPHONY CONDUCTORS, LEONARD BERNSTEIN HAVING GROWN UP, IN HIS EARLY YEARS, AT LEAST IN VIENNA, THAT AN AMERICAN MUSICIAN, NO MATTER HOW MUCH HE KNOWS ABOUT ORCHESTRAS OR ABOUT PUBLICS, IS NOT ABLE TO DRAMATIZE HIMSELF IN THE WAY OF PUTTING ON THE WHOLE ORCHESTRA AS HIS PRIVATE MASK, OR CORPORATE MASK, NOR IS HE ABLE TO PUT ON THE WHOLE PUBLIC AS A MASK. WHEREAS A EUROPEAN DOESN'T EVEN THINK ABOUT THIS AS A PROBLEM. WHEN HE STANDS UP IN FRONT OF THE ORCHESTRA, HE CEASES TO BE A PRIVATE PERSON, BECOMES AN ACTOR, INSTANTLY. NOW, AN AMERICAN, NOT ONLY DOES NOT LIKE ACTING OR PUTTING ON A PUBLIC, BUT HE DOES NOT PUT ON A CORPORATE OR STANDARD VOICE WHEN HE SPEAKS. HE USES HIS PRIVATE VOICE. AND THIS, OF COURSE, ENABLES THE AMERICANS TO HAVE NO CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS AND NO CLASS STRUCTURE.

Tom says THAT WOULD EXPLAIN WHY THEY WOULD BEHAVE DIFFERENTLY IN RESTAURANTS OR IN HOTELS.

Marshall says OH, YES. AND WHEN THEY'RE IN A MOVIE OR WHEN THEY'RE AT A RESTAURANT, THEY WANT TO BE ALONE. THEY DON'T WANT ADVERTISEMENTS IN MOVIES BECAUSE THEY GO THERE WITH THEIR DATES TO BE ALONE. WHEREAS EUROPEANS WILL PUT UP WITH CONVERSATION IN MOVIES AND ADVERTISEMENTS IN MOVIES AND SO ON. THEY DO NOT GO OUT TO BE ALONE. BUT THIS THEN LED TO THIS WHOLE PROBLEM OF THE PUT ON. THE COMIC, WHEN HE GETS UP IN FRONT OF PEOPLE, HE PUTS PEOPLE ON BY TWISTING THEIR ARMS. THE JOKES THE COMIC TELLS ARE THE ONES THAT CUT VERY CLOSE TO THE BONE AND CLOSE TO HOME. AND UNLESS THE JOKES COME CLOSE TO HOME, THEY DON'T HAVE ANY RELEVANCE AND THEY DON'T HAVE ANY PUT ON VALUE. SO THE ETHNIC JOKES ARE THE ONES THAT ARE CLOSEST TO HOME. AND THE AREAS WHERE THINGS HURT, WHERE THERE'S ABRASIVE CONTOURS AND ABRASIVE INTERFACES AND SO ON. SO MOST JOKES TEND TO HAVE THIS MINORITY QUALITY OR IRRITATION QUALITY. AND JUST AS GAMES PEOPLE PLAY OFTEN TEND TO HAVE A RATHER DESTRUCTIVE QUALITY. A VIOLENT AND DESTRUCTIVE THING. BUT A PUT ON, A PUT ON, THEREFORE, TENDS TO BE A WAY OF HURTING THE PUBLIC. IT'S AN ACT OF AGGRESSION AGAINST PEOPLE. AND I THINK, A WRITER, WHEN HE PICKS UP HIS PEN, HAS TO PUT ON HIS PUBLIC THAT WAY. IF HE HAS SOMETHING TO SAY, IT'S GOING TO HURT.

Tom says I REMEMBER, YOU WERE PREDICTING ONCE, IF THE COVERAGE OF THE WAR IN VIETNAM WAS SUDDENLY WITHDRAWN, THAT THE WAR WOULD GRIND ALMOST TO A HALT. AND THIS HAPPENED DURING THE SIX DAY OR SEVEN DAY WAR, ISRAEL AND EGYPT, SUDDENLY ALL OF THOSE CORRESPONDENTS FOR WIRE SERVICES, THEY WERE ALL CONCENTRATED IN SAIGON, WERE ALL SUDDENLY SUMMONED TO GO TO THE MIDDLE EAST. UNFORTUNATELY, AND IT WAS TRUE THAT DURING THAT WEEK, THE FIGHTING SUDDENLY, AND THE FIGHTING WAS HOT AT THAT TIME, SUDDENLY JUST CAME DOWN TO NOTHING. UNFORTUNATELY, IT WASN'T A LONG ENOUGH INTERVAL TO...

Marshall says WELL, I THINK IT MIGHT BE WORTH AN EXPERIMENT. PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT THE NEED TO UNDERSTAND MEDIA BY EXPERIMENTATION. I THINK IT WOULD BE WORTH AN EXPERIMENT IN TURNING THEM ALL OFF FOR A WEEK. THAT IS, THERE'D BE NO NEWSPAPER, NO RADIO, NO TV, NO TELEPHONES, NOTHING FOR ONE WEEK. WHAT DO YOU THINK WOULD HAPPEN? WHAT WOULD PEOPLE... HOW WOULD THEY RESPOND TO A COMPLETE BLACKOUT?

Tom says WELL, IN KEN KESEY'S PHRASE, THIS WOULD BE A MEDIA FAST. HE WROTE A RECENT OPEN LETTER TO ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE IN WHICH HE SAID, "I AM BREAKING A SIX-MONTH MEDIA FAST IN ORDER TO... "... I LIKE THAT IDEA OF THE MEDIA FAST.

Marshall says WELL, WHEN THERE IS NO NEWS, AS FOR EXAMPLE IN A PRISON CAMP, WHERE THERE'S... ALL NEWS IS CUT OFF, THERE HAVE BEEN STUDIES OF WHAT HAPPENED, OR WHAT HAPPENS. ENORMOUS OUTBURSTS OF RUMOURS. THE ORAL THING TAKES OVER AND PEOPLE GENERATE INCREDIBLE RUMOURS ABOUT WHAT'S HAPPENING, WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN, WHAT'S BEING PLANNED AND SO ON. SO PROBABLY, THERE IS A KIND OF CONTROL, A RUMOUR CONTROL ON... BY MEANS OF COVERAGE, EVEN WHEN IT'S COMPLETELY FAKE. THAT IS MOST NEWS IS LITERALLY FAKE BECAUSE IT HAS TO BE MADE, THEN SELECTED. AND THE VERY, VERY TINY BITS THAT ARE ACTUALLY WRITTEN UP AND REPORTED AND PRESENTED TO THE PUBLIC ARE FICTIONS IN EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD, AREN'T THEY? THAT IS, THEY'RE FICTIONS IN THE SENSE THAT THEY DO NOT CORRESPOND TO ACTUALLY WHAT'S GOING ON. BUT THEY ARE MADE, LITERALLY, CREATED.

Tom says DO YOU THINK THIS EXPLAINS THE REALLY STRANGE FASCINATION THAT ARTHUR BREMER HAD WITH... HE OBVIOUSLY LOOKED AT SIRHAN SIRHAN AS SOME KIND OF HEROIC FIGURE. HE WASN'T THIS POOR, HELPLESS, USELESS BEING WHO HAD DONE THIS DESPERATE THING. CERTAINLY NOT IN ARTHUR BREMER'S EYES.

Marshall says NO, AND AGAIN, HE HAD MADE THE NEWS, SIRHAN HAD MADE THE NEWS. NOW, THIS YOU CAN TAKE IN EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD AS HAVING GOTTEN INTO THE NEWS, HAVING BEEN CREATED INTO A VAST FIGURE BY THE NEWS. MAKING THE NEWS IS A VERY STRANGE PHRASE, BUT THE MEDIA THEMSELVES CAN NOW CREATE EVENTS THAT ARE SO MUCH BIGGER THAN PEOPLE, SO MUCH BIGGER THAN THE AUDIENCE, THAT IT REALLY IS A NEW MYTHIC FORM. THE COVERAGE OF THE VIETNAM WAR IS DONE BY MORE PEOPLE THAN WHO ARE ACTUALLY FIGHTING IN VIETNAM. THE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE COVERING VIETNAM BUSINESS AROUND THE WORLD, AND PARTICIPATING IN IT THROUGH NEWSCASTS, THE NUMBERS ARE MANY, MANY MILLIONS. AND SO THE WAR THEN BECOMES A FICTION, A COLOSSAL FICTION. THIS THEN LEADS PEOPLE LIKE CLIFFORD IRVING, JUST AS MUCH AS BREMER, INTO THINKING SOMEONE LIKE HOWARD HUGHES CAN BE TURNED INTO A MYTH, A GENUINE FAKE.

Tom says POLITICIANS VERY QUICKLY LEARN THAT IF YOU WANT TO GET ON THE 6 O'CLOCK NEWS AT NIGHT, THAT YOU DO IT... IF YOU WANT TO GET ON NBC, YOU DO SOMETHING IN CLEVELAND BEFORE NOON. BECAUSE IF YOU DON'T DO IT BEFORE NOON, THE NETWORK DOESN'T HAVE TIME TO PROCESS IT AND FLY IT TO NEW YORK TO BE SHOWN NATIONWIDE. AND IT HAS TO BE SOMETHING OF GREAT MAGNITUDE TO HAPPEN AT 3 O'CLOCK AND MAKE THE 6 O'CLOCK NEWS. SO YOU HAVE THIS MARVELLOUS SPECTACLE OF POLITICIANS ALL OVER THE COUNTRY DOING... HAVING A PRESS CONFERENCE AT 10:30 A.M. IN CLEVELAND, AND ANOTHER ONE IS HAVING ONE AT 10:30 A.M. IN NEW ORLEANS BECAUSE THEY, BEING SO AWARE OF ALL OF THIS, VERY QUICKLY CATCH ONTO IT. AND COMMERCIAL ENTERPRISES HAVE CAUGHT ON TO THE FACT THAT ALL THE NETWORKS WANT ON THE 6 O'CLOCK NEWS, THE LAST ITEM TO BE SOMETHING FUNNY. I DON'T KNOW EXACTLY WHY THIS IS TRUE. YOU'VE BEEN... MAYBE IT'S BECAUSE YOU'VE JUST BEEN SLAUGHTERED FOR HALF AN HOUR, AND THEY WANT A LITTLE KICKER. SO THE LAST ITEM ON THE NEWS, EVERY DAY, IS ALWAYS REALLY A COVERT ADVERTISEMENT, PURE AND SIMPLE. LIKE THE LAST ONE I REMEMBER SEEING IN NEW YORK BEFORE LEAVING WAS A GROUP OF MODELS IN BIKINIS DRESSED UP IN APE SUITS AND WENT TO THE CENTRAL PARK ZOO, IN THEIR APE SUITS, THEY FED THE MONKEYS BANANAS. AND EVERY SINGLE LOCAL NEWS STATION AND EVERY NETWORK IN NEW YORK RAN THIS THING AS THE LAST ITEM ON THE SHOW, AND IT WAS AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES , OF COURSE. SO IT'S NOT SO MUCH THE NETWORKS MANIPULATING THE NEWS, IT'S JUST SETTING UP THE SYSTEM AND THEN OTHER PEOPLE USE IT.

Marshall says THIS RAISES SOMETHING WE HAVEN'T REALLY TALKED ABOUT, BUT THAT IS THE NEWS IS, HAS TO BE A PUT ON. IT HAS TO PUT ON A PUBLIC. AND SO THE LAST COMIC TWIST IN THE NEWS WOULD BE A WAY OF DISMISSING THE PUBLIC, AND SAYING, SO LONG. BUT YOU KNOW HOW IN LAUGH IN, THEY DO IT THAT WAY. THEY HAVE A RAPID ROUND UP, HAS A DISMISSAL, OFF WILDLY IMPROBABLE COMIC TERMS. TOM, I THINK THERE ARE A WHOLE LOT OF WONDERFUL TOPICS WE'VE MANAGED TO BROACH, AT LEAST. BUT IT WOULD TAKE A LONG TIME TO REALLY GET INTO THEM.

Tom says YOU KNOW, WHAT I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO DO IS JUST RUN DOWN A CHECKLIST OF ALL THE PREDICTIONS YOU MADE SIX YEARS AGO THAT PEOPLE THOUGHT WERE ABSOLUTELY CRAZY THAT HAVE COME TRUE. I REMEMBER YOU WERE SAYING ONCE THAT THERE WOULD BE A TIME WHEN THEY WOULD HAVE TO PAY STUDENTS TO GO TO SCHOOL. WELL, THERE'S A NEW FEDERAL PROGRAM IN THE UNITED STATES AND THEY'RE DOING JUST THAT. THEY FIGURE THE ONLY WAY THEY CAN GET THESE LARGE NUMBERS OF KIDS INTERESTED IS GIVE THEM A LITTLE SALARY.

Marshall says I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN VERY CAREFUL NEVER TO PREDICT ANYTHING THAT HAD NOT ALREADY HAPPENED.

Tom chuckles.

Marshall says THIS IS... THE FUTURE IS NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE.

Tom chuckles and says IT'S LIKE A QUICKER LOOK THROUGH YOUR REAR-VIEW MIRROR.

As the talk continues, end credits roll.

Marshall says IT IS HERE. AND WHEN YOU LOOK INTO THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR, WHAT YOU ORDINARILY SEE IS NOT THE CAR THAT PASSED, BUT THE TRUCK THAT'S COMING UP ON YOU FAST. NEVER LOOK BACK, THEY MAY BE GAINING ON YOU. SO THIS... YOU CAN'T, YOU CAN'T LOSE, YOU CAN'T WIN. THE PRESENT INCLUDES THE PAST AND THE FUTURE.

Education Supervisor, Philip Nixon. Producer, Bob Wood.

Brave New Words: Marshall McLuhan and Tom Wolfe. Copyright 1970, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Marshall McLuhan in Conversation with Tom Wolfe